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“If you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there.”That is a quote taken from the book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, popularly known as Alice in Wonderland published in 1865. The quote was applicable then. It is even more apposite today. If you do not have knowledge, you cannot manage. In crime fighting, the 3Ds model is applicable – Data-Driven Decisions. Recently, the police, Minister of Home Affairs and moreso the President presented the police updated version of serious crimes statistics to members of the public.
Even if in some instances, there is a decrease of certain reported crime committed during the period under review, the crime figure is too high. Where is the baseline? I am wary of reading and listening to the stats as the presenters give the impression that crime is under control when in reality, it is not so and even more worrying is the massive involvement of our youths in a multiplicity of serious crimes.
Presenting crime stats to paint a picture that the police are on top of crimes is meaningless when citizens feel otherwise and have a perpetual fear of crime. Analysing serious crimes stats and presenting them to the public is great, but it is nothing new. It became popular in 1990 when Laurie Lewis became Commissioner of Police. He identified 11 categories of serious crimes for constant review by the police. They are: (1) Murder (2) Robbery (3) Robbery under arms where guns were used (4) Robbery under arms where other instruments were used (5) Robbery with violence (6) Robbery with aggravation (7) Larceny from the person (8) Rape (9) Burglary (10)Break and Enter and Larceny and (11) Kidnapping.
I do not know what yardstick Commissioner Lewis used to come up with his list of serious crimes. After Commissioner Lewis demitted office, the police continued to use his serious crimes formula. A quick look at the list will reveal that apart from rape, no other offence relating to domestic violence is catered for, drug trafficking is not listed, trafficking in person, fraud, simple larceny, conspiracy to defraud which SOCU likes to target and many other serious offences are not considered or listed as serious crimes. The list by Top Cop Laurie Lewis has remained pristine for over 30 years, although new trends of serious crimes have emerged. Crime figures differ in the various regional police divisions. While there are decreases in certain serious crimes, other categories have spiked. There is also the “dark figures in crime,” that is, crimes not reported to the police for diverse reasons. In addition, there is the possibility of ghosting, which is “falsifying figures to” make the numbers come out right. Words, which I used to hear during my service in the Force, now keep ringing in my ears, “Don’t record that crime! It will make us look bad. Cock the stats so that we can look good. I do not know if “ghosting” is still taking place in the Force. The possibility of it still existing should not be overlooked. Minor crimes stats are apparently dashed under the police’s “No Action Red Carpet” so that the perpetrators of those minor crimes are not effectively targeted and they quickly graduate and become serious crimes offenders.
Police tend to use crime rates, number of arrest and case clearance rates to measure how they are doing. Kramer and Fielder (2002) summarise the problem well: “Traditional measurements, such as Uniform Crime Reports … arrest, and tickets tabulate only events. They do not measure whether the activities were completed efficiently and effectively, and they don’t describe what impact the activities had on the community. “Wayne W. Bennette and Karen M. Hess were very pellucid. They explained that such measures have several problems and argued that low crime rate does not necessarily mean a police agency is efficient and effective; A high arrest rate does not necessarily mean that the police are doing a good job; a high ratio of police officers to citizens does not necessarily mean high-quality police services; responding quickly to calls for service does not necessarily indicate that a police agency is efficient.
Rather than looking at crime rates, number of arrests, cases clear up rates and response time, evaluation should assess whether or not the police are effective in fulfilling their responsibility to the communities that they swore to serve and protect. They must also focus on their mission statement. The GPF mission statement is not SMART (more about that in another article). In addition, the police must consider what citizens want from their protectors. Most citizens want to live in safe, orderly neighbourhood. Sir Robert Peel often called the “Father of Modern Policing,” posited that the test of police effectiveness is the absence of crime and disorder not the visible evidence of police activity dealing with the issues of crimes. The police are considered effective when they produce the perception that crime is under control. Reduction of fear is a very important measure.
In order for the police to appraise their performance, apart from analysing crime statistics, they must conduct regular environmental scanning, that is to say, they must scan both the internal and external environments. The GPF have many members of the Force at various levels and departments who are the holders of first Degrees and Masters. They can successfully conduct such surveys or seek outside help. For the internal survey, the following questions can be asked: How effective are you? What, if anything, should we change? What challenges do we face now? What challenges will we face in the future?
One way to assess community approval or disapproval is through community surveys which can measure trends and provide positive and negative feedback of the public’s impression of law enforcement. Community surveys are a win-win situation. It sends a message to citizens that the police are addressing their fear of crime and neighbourhood disorder. Citizens are better served and officers receive positive feedback. Community surveys can also be a key in establishing communications. Such surveys can also help set organisational goals, identify department strengths and weaknesses, identify areas of improvement and needed training and influence the motivation of employees.
In closing, I recall vividly that several months ago the Ministry of Home Affairs boldly announced that it was conducting an online survey to find out how well the police are performing. Since then, nothing has been made public of that survey. Perhaps, there were human resource shortages and technical difficulties affecting the survey. Perhaps, it was washed away by the recent nationwide floods. Perhaps, it was not vaccinated and that COVID-19 infected and killed it. I am hopeful that the above is not so.
Assistant Commissioner of Police